Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Glasgow Handshake, Anyone?

I love English, that goes without saying. I love the versatility of the language. Don't get me wrong. Anglophile I am not, it's the language I admire, not the culture or the lifestyle.

And just in case you are wondering, I am equally adept at Bahasa Melayu although I do get irritated with the current tendency to adopt English words when there exist words in BM that can do the job just as well, if not better.

Why use 'fleksibel' when there is anjal? Why 'impak' when there is keberkesanan? As a trained translator, I used to cross swords with advertising clients who insisted on using 'bastardised" (for want of a better word) terms in their copy. Their rationale? It makes the text look 'Malaysian" and not too 'Melayu', as though there is a negative connotation with the latter. Hogwash, I say.

Anyway, one of the fine things about English is that it is constantly evolving, with some phrases in use for a short season or period before retreating into obscurity, while others are adopted into mainstream language. This has resulted in the creation of a rich heritage of axioms.

I recently came across a newspaper article written by language expert Ellen Whyte on this subject, where she highlighted some words that reflect associations with specific towns or countries. Let's go on a tour...

Sent to Coventry (to be ostracised or shunned, often as a punishment): Dating from 1765, the origin of this phrase is hotly disputed. Some say it comes from a military prison that once stood in the English city of Coventry. Others think that criminals fled there because the town was beyond the jurisdiction of a team of London-based crime investigators called the Bow Street Runners.

Shanghaied (to be tricked into doing something you don't like): This phrase entered the dictionary around 1871 and is said to have come from even earlier times when ship captains in the West recruited crews for long, dangerous trips to the Orient by getting men drunk, or drugging them, and then forcing them on board.

Bangalored (to be laid off because your company is outsourcing your job to a country where wages are cheaper): This 21st century phrase has its origin in the rise of Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, which started numerous call centres, computer coding services, and other business facilities for multinationals.

Glasgow handshake (a head butt): Apparently, many fights in Scotland start with a head butt. Tongue-in-cheek theories state that this is a favoured move because it allows you to fight while hanging on to your beer/whiskey!

Indian summer: An Indian summer has both literal and figurative meanings. Literally it means an extended period of warm weather into late autumn or even early winter. Figuratively it refers to a happy period at the end of a life. While its origin is disputed, some camps ascribe it to the (old) American Indian habit of running raiding parties in the summer.

Going Dutch (to divide the cost of something): In the Netherlands, people often pay separately, even when dating. While feminists hold that this is part of gender equality, some see this as an example of stinginess that particularly characterises the Dutch!

Laconic (terse, succinct or short): In ancient times, the Spartans (who lived in the Greek province of Laconia), were as famous for their frugality as they were for their military skill. So many myths tell of the Laconian economy of words that the eponym has become part of the English language.

Example: The great soldier and conqueror Phillip II wrote to the Spartans, saying, "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." The laconic reply was, "If."

That's word economy for you. If only those YBs with un-Parliamentary behaviour can be just as economical.


fiddz said...

akak! akak! You are my idol now!

i started a blog in 2005..after 3 entries i gave up. Good to see yours.

You might want to check this
guy who said he acquainted pak abu during in UK.

Kamaliah At-Tarawis said...

Hi there Fidd! Nice to hear from you. Both Pak Abu and I checked out the blog you mentioned. Lots of interesting commentaries there.

Indeed, Pak Abu remembers Zaharan who used to bunk with him when Pak Abu was a student in London.

Zaharan Razak said...

Hi People! I'm the guy you're referring to here. Happened on this site by chance. For the life of me, I cannot seem to recall having known any of you three but it doesn't matter ... you're most welcome to visit my blog. Lotsa new stuff. I assume Abu is your husband. Since he says he knows me, give him my regards and apologies for not being able to recall his name. After a short walk through your blog, I note that we have a few interests in common - a passion for English, reading list, writing poetry, translation, journalism background, etc.